By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
El Paso’s Ambassador of Good Will, Rosa Guerrero, has a mantra every morning which she offers to God as she steps out the door to do the amazing acts of good which she does: “All I need is Your love and Your grace to help me with the human race.” She also whispers to herself a prayer she learned from Mother Theresa – “Live simply, so that others can simply live.”
Guerrero, who is one of the most honored women in El Paso since she started her teaching and dancing career, says that Hispanics shouldn’t just wait for September-October to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. “We should celebrate it every day of our lives,” Guerrero said. “You should have God in your life everyday, you should be proud to be a Hispanic, honor the language, honor the culture; celebrate yourselves.”
Guerrero said that isn’t always so easy to do, because many young Hispanics don’t know their own history, they see themselves in negative stereotypes as portrayed by the media, and they believe those unfortunate aspects of who they are. “They see the negative stereotype of a Mexican sleeping under a cactus tree, and they laugh, or they are ashamed of it. How do you see the positive side of something like that? You must imagine that the Mexican is sleeping under that cactus because he just got off work, and he is dead tired. After all, we Hispanics have the strength of our arms; we have the strength of our culture. That poor Mexican was tired, so he took time off to rest.”
Guerrero has been a teacher since 1970, when she became the first Hispanic woman to teach at Austin High School. She became a teacher because her own teachers in the 1940s and 1950s were not “kind” to her. She swore that when she became a teacher she would never punish her students for speaking Spanish and would always respect other ethnicities for their cultural differences.
Guerrero, who earned her BA and MA from then-Texas Western College, has been named a Distinguished Alumni of U.T. El Paso, was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. She was honored with a lifetime membership in the Texas PTA, and is the first Hispanic woman in El Paso to have a school named after her – the Rosa Guerrero Elementary School.. Her honors are too many to mention, but, she still maintains a humble spirit, one that includes talking with people of all nationalities.
“National Hispanic Heritage Month is good for us, but, my Indian heritage is just as important to me, Guerrero said. “And, yes, things have changed for the better, but, there are still too many Hispanic teachers who don’t know their own culture, so how are they going to teach their students what they don’t know? Our young people need to understand who they are and where they came from, but, this is difficult because in Texas, the curriculum in the schools is not meant to teach about our history.
“If you asked any student who is Cesar Chavez, that student will invariably answer that he was a boxer. And, yes, Julio Cesar Chavez was a great boxer, but, he wasn’t a great farm worker leader and organizer. That’s where parents come in. They are the first educators these students know, thus, the parents should become more involved in teaching at home what the children are not learning in the schools. Parents and children need to read, read, read. Read to them in English, read to them in Spanish, teach them about their past, and make them feel proud about who they are.”
Perhaps it was Jose Antonio Burciaga, or, perhaps, it was Abelardo Delgado – two great Chicano legendary writers who called Guerrero the “poet who communicates with her feet,” but, either way, she has taken their words to heart and is now beginning a new career as the author of a children’s book, “Cuidado con el chamuco,” to be illustrated by the great artist Francisco Delgado and to be published by Cinco Puntos Press sometime next year.
“A chamuco is a devil, who lives in Chamucolandia,” Guerrero said. “What I’m saying is for young people to stay away from negatives, because they are all around us. Drugs, sin, crime – everyday we’re tempted by el chamuco – who may be the devil, el pingo, el Diablo, el cucuy, or satanaz.” She’s got another book in the works to be titled “Rosita Loves To Dance.”
And for the future of Hispanic Heritage Month and the future or young Chicanitos? “I hope that it penetrates into the minds and the hearts of our young people. They need to feel proud of who they are, forget the low self-esteem, we’ve got much of which to be proud. I’m happy to have a month in which to celebrate ourselves, our accomplishments. But, the mothers need to get involved. I’m getting involved by becoming a writer – if I leave a legacy, it will be through the written word. From the womb to the tomb, we don’t need to lose our culture, and, remember, la familia is the greatest treasure, the greatest gift we have. Enjoy it!